California needs to put some heat in its sunshine law

In an exclusive op-ed for The Modesto Bee I discuss the importance of adding penalties to California’s Public Records Act. A slice:

When a government denies access to public records in violation of the CPRA, those requesting the information have only two choices: give up or sue.

Suing can take months and be very expensive. So, many simply give up.

As a result, some governments have become accustomed to violating the law in especially indefensible ways.

Another way agencies obstruct access is by charging excessive “production fees.”

That’s what happened in our recent request from the Southern Kern Unified School District. The district’s official response alleged that providing the requested records would take 35 hours of staff time, and thus demanded payment of a $1,150 programming fee before they would proceed.

The letter closed by directing all questions to the district’s legal counsel, Bill Hornback, suggesting this determination was made in consultation with an attorney.

We often hear from residents who get similar responses and feel they have no recourse and give up.

When the average citizen gets a letter from the government or its attorneys claiming something as fact, how many are comfortable disputing the claim?

Unable to fork over the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, those citizens are simply denied access to the information they are entitled to have.

Because Southern Kern Unified uses identical payroll software to a neighboring school district — who attested the information could be provided in under 5 minutes at no charge — we knew their $1,150 programming fee was bogus.

Despite telling Southern Kern this, no substantive response was provided until we finally threatened legal action three weeks later — at which point the information was provided in just a few hours at no cost.

Be sure to read the whole thing by clicking here!